After my one week of immersion in Social Networking Analysis, I became convinced of two propositions.
- This powerful set of tools can reveal key dynamics within any organization, industry, or social setting, broadly construed, and thus formulate more effective polices/strategies/tactics; this power can be harnessed for good or evil.
- Because of the nature of the required data, university researchers are at a huge disadvantage. The most sophisticated research in this area is being done by the private sector, which has fewer privacy strictures (i.e., human subjects/IRB regulations) and a strong motive to fund proprietary research.
In contrast to other social science methods, social network analysis requires complete data of a social setting rather than a sample. Thus, if your data is derived from survey data, you need response rates of 90 to 100%, which are rare. Yet, in this digital age, monitoring computer activity is a very cheap and effective to assemble the required dataset.
For example, emails provide an excellent record of who communicates with whom; and content analysis can be performed by software. This is great data, but for most research questions, the human subjects issues will be intractable. Because this research has important commercial implications, the private sector is well positioned to pick up the slack.
Prediction: Expect to see more researchers leaving the academy to pursue research opportunities in the private sector. It is not just about the money--their new employers are likely to have access to better data.